An intense read

January First
I ended up staying up until past 3am on a weeknight to finish reading this. It hit too close to home on too many levels.

My sister and I grew up with a mother who continues to suffer from severe bipolar disorder, which has robbed her of so much in life. Like Janni, my mother had a very high I.Q. (I believe my mother clocked in with 183 – at least that’s a number I heard often, growing up). The I.Q. test has been discredited over time, and I think it’s really easy, especially as a parent, to get sucked into false expectations and hopes when one’s child tests with such a high score (I did find it tedious that the author/father repeatedly fell back on his daughter’s I.Q. as an excuse for bizarre behavior).

From what I understand, my mother was an unusual child from early on (as early as five, according to my late great-aunt, who lived with my mother’s family then). And now, my sister is dealing with the manifestations of bipolar disease in an elderly woman. It seems to me that psychiatric illness, as is the case with many physical conditions, is much less well-understood in the old and the young, and treatments at the extreme are less clearly defined.

When I was in my first year of medical school, I had a psych professor who led a small group sessions I was in, who remarked on a schizophrenic patient of hers who wanted to start a family, and my reaction was a very personal one, and very negative! I was furious with the professor for insisting that her patient had every right to the joy of becoming a mother, despite her psych diagnosis. My thought was, “What about the poor kid(s)? What kind of life will they have?”. My reaction was, in part, informed by my belief that my mother might have been able to succeed in her life had she never had kids (I being the first, and thus, the one who first defined her as a parent). Of course, I can never know the outcome for her would have been any different.  Would she have finished her PhD?  Would she have been able to have a productive academic career?

I have many patients in my own practice (primarily caring for people with HIV infection) who have mental health conditions, and it’s hard. The stigma against mental illness is almost as bad as that against HIV. I encourage my HIV- infected patients to live life as fully as possible, including havving kids, if that’s what they want, but I’m still ambivalent about encouraging people with psychotic disorders to have kids.  I’m not sure that being a parent is right for everyone.

I came across this book thanks to my friend who blogs at Not Ever Still, who participates in an online book club From Left To Write

3 thoughts on “An intense read

  1. I read it a month ago and that book has really stayed with me, too. If you're ever again interested in one of my book club books, let me know- the publishers send them to us gratis and I'm happy to pass them on. Chag sameach!!

    1. Janaki says:

      That would be great!! "January First" is getting a little mini boost from your post – my daughter bought it because of my post on it!

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